PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) At 45 years of age and competing in a record eighth Winter Games, Noriaki Kasai is hoping Pyeongchang becomes the venue for his biggest Olympic achievement.
Kasai is one of six male ski jumpers representing Japan in Pyeongchang, where he’ll surpass Russian luger Albert Demchenko’s mark for the most appearances at the Winter Olympics.
While Kasai has struggled this season on the World Cup circuit, he has a history of coming through on the Olympic stage.
Few gave Kasai much of a chance of getting near the medals at Sochi in 2014, but he nailed two jumps in the large hill final to take the silver and finish just 1.3 points behind Poland’s Kamil Stoch.
Kasai, who will be Japan’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony, has made no secret about what his goals are at these Olympics.
”I want to win the gold,” Kasai said. ”Winning gold in Pyeongchang is my objective. I’ve yet to win Olympic gold.”
Kasai made his Olympic debut at Albertville in 1992 and has appeared in every Winter edition since. He won a silver medal as a member of Japan’s team in Lillehammer in `94, and added the silver and a team bronze in Sochi.
With his dedication to his craft, Kasai has earned the respect of his younger rivals.
”Noriaki Kasai is one of my biggest idols and is a legend in our sport,” Norway ski jumper Daniel Andre Tande said. ”It’s amazing that at this age he is still competing at this level.”
Tande, who was born the year Kasai won his first Olympic medal, said the Japanese veteran could easily be a contender in Pyeongchang.
”If the conditions are right and he is doing his best then of course there is nothing stopping him,” Tande said. ”He’s a good ski jumper – if everything is set he can absolutely get a medal.”
Kasai was born in Shimokawa on Japan’s northernmost Island of Hokkaido, a town with a population of less than 5,000 but one that has produced five Olympic ski jumpers. The year Kasai was born, Sapporo hosted the 1972 Winter Olympics.
The host nation won only three medals that year, all in ski jumping when Yukio Kasaya led a Japanese sweep of the podium in the normal hill event.
It was a result that fostered the country’s love of ski jumping, and Kasai has played an important role in keeping the sport front and center in Japan.
Kasai started ski jumping when he was 9, and made his World Cup debut in 1988 at the age of 16. He finished 31st overall in that competition but it was the start of a long and successful career.
In addition to three Olympic medals, Kasai has competed at the world championships since 1989 and owns seven medals. He won normal and large hill bronze medals in 1993, as well as two silvers and three bronze medals in team events.
Even if he doesn’t win the elusive gold medal in Pyeongchang, Kasai has hinted he may be back for more. Sapporo is hoping to host the Winter Games in 2026.
”When I reached 40, I decided I would call it quits when I turn 50,” Kasai said. ”But now Sapporo is bidding for the 2026 Games. I will be almost 54 by that time, but it is too big a chance to give up.”